This is weird. I've been writing on the computer for years now, but this is the first time I have written a review whilst playing the CD on the computer's sound system. Not bad. Certainly not anywhere near as good as my main system (Theil speakers, brag, brag.) Anyway, the fact that it is this particular composer adds to the weirdness of the experience. Janáček's sound world is as unique as Martinů. Weirding trills on the violins that sound like fireflies echo throughout all these works.
Anyway, another oddity is that listening to this recording on this system, writing like this, I am appreciating this disc even more than when I wrote my initial notes in the listening room. There is something kind of intimate about this writing locale and there is nice detail in the sound. I don't intend to suddenly do all my reviews using only this system, but I may use the computer's sound system as I write from my notes.
Oh, yeah. This recording. Love it!!! I compared it with the Tokyo Quartet's recording on RCA (coupled with the complete Bartók Quartets). The Vlach Quartet lingers here and there more lovingly than do the Tokyo. There is a sadness in their playing that the Tokyo group sometimes does not capture. That is, the Vlach Quartet sounds more Janáčekian to my ears. The other Janáček items on this release are as icing on a cake. I had not heard any of them before and found them wonderful. The Pohadka is particularly involving. The insert notes do a good job of discussing the pieces. Janáček's sound world is unique, like a dip into a cool mountain lake.
To a large extent the difference between the Tokyo and Vlach recordings has a lot to do with just that: the recordings. The RCA is more distant. You have to turn the sound up considerably from the level I used while listening to the Naxos disc. This distance lends the Tokyo a more 'symphonic' atmosphere, the music blends into itself. The Vlach sounds more like chamber music. The sound is more transparent and also closer. (Damn, just listening to the second movement of the Kreutzer gave me goosebumps even on this system. I also just noted a similarity between this piece and Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, in spirit if not note.) The sound stage allows me to place instruments on the stage, even on this generic system…hmmm, maybe??? "Susan! Wanna improve your computer system???"
There are currently around 20 versions of Janáček's Quartets listed in the Schwann Opus. Most have both on the disc. I cannot claim to being an expert on the piece and have heard, other than the Tokyo, the Smetana Quartet on Supraphon. Again, the Vlach Quartet is just a tad slower, lingering here and there a bit. There may be better recordings of these works on disc, but the Tokyo is regarded as the best in the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and I find this Naxos recording even better.
Copyright © 1998, Robert Stumpf II